by Andrea Doyle | January 15, 2013
The motto, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," has an even deeper meaning for local charities that benefit from corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that are included in an increasing number of the city's incentives and meetings. 

"CSR is all about companies being good corporate citizens, and supporting those less fortunate," says Alan Ranzer, co-founder and managing partner of Impact 4 Good, a leading voice in the CSR movement. "Regrettably, there are always many in need, no matter the destination. Fortunately, however, there are always great organizations supporting those needs that can give back. Las Vegas is no different."

CSR programs are indeed a win-win proposition. Companies that conduct CSR are perceived as being caring, and their employees feel good about working for organizations that are interested in more than just the bottom line.

Ranzer once planned a CSR program that got the group out and into the community. "During 'Takin' It to the Streets,' the 400-person group was separated into 10 teams, each of which visited a different local nonprofit in Las Vegas," he explains. "Doing so allowed the participants to learn about Las Vegas by meeting the people who are working to make it the great city that it is, and are helping each organization achieve its mission through an on-site project. The program culminated with each team reporting back to the entire group via an interactive presentation with pictures and videos from their experiences."

CSR Helps With Bonding
Caesars Entertainment uses CSR events to not only give back but to strategically bond with its best clients and prospects. The company has been conducting educational familiarization trips for meeting planners in Las Vegas for the last seven years, and is expanding them to its Atlantic City, Lake Tahoe, and Tunica, MS, markets this year. Over the years, the event format has been fairly consistent, with one notable exception: Three years ago, they added a community service component.

At each event, a group of approximately 200 planners and 100 Caesars meetings staffers gets up early on Saturday morning and heads out to help those in need. Three previous service days consisted of assisting St. Jude's Ranch for Children, a nonprofit, nonsectarian home for abused, abandoned, and neglected children in Boulder City, NV. Attendees at various events painted the interiors of the residents' cottages, did landscaping, and hung holiday decorations purchased by Caesars for the ranch's critical "Night of Lights" event, which raises money that helps to fund the organization for the rest of the year.

At its most recent event in November, Caesars worked with Rebuilding Together Southern Nevada to provide home improvements to three low-income homeowners. The effort marked the beginning of a yearlong collaboration between Caesars and Rebuilding Together, a national organization that provides safe housing for low-income homeowners including seniors, disabled Americans, veterans, and families of active service members. Caesars has partnered with Rebuilding Together on many initiatives; however, this was the first year Caesars worked with them for this familiarization event.

"The basic need for a safe and healthy home is something we can all relate to," says Gwen Migita, vice president of sustainability and community affairs at Caesars Entertainment. "By providing much-needed repairs and sustainable upgrades, we hope that our efforts will make a lasting impact on these individuals' well-being and their wallets." The rebuild projects were sponsored by a combined $150,000 in gifts from the Caesars Foundation, a private charitable foundation funded by a percentage of operating income from the company's resorts, and the Caesars Entertainment meetings division.

Overwhelmingly, planners who take part in the service day feel that it is a highlight of the experience. "Just when I thought I could not be wowed any more than I had already been, I took a bus out to St. Jude's Ranch and discovered that dozens of Caesars employees had given up their Saturday to join us in manual labor to improve the landscaping at this wonderful children's housing complex," says participating planner Chris Cox, executive director, Print Suppliers Group, a manufacturer and distributor of printing inks based in Calabasas, CA.

For Caesars, the activity is an opportunity to show off a unique team-building option and to showcase the company's community-oriented culture. Roughly 1,000 similar events are held around the country each year, says Migita.

Caesars is not the only Las Vegas resort company that is serious about its commitment to CSR. MGM Resorts International) has unified its diversity and inclusion, community engagement, and environmental sustainability initiatives under the single comprehensive platform of "Inspiring Our World." MGM's community engagement is organized around four key programs: its corporate giving program; its employee workplace giving program; The MGM Resorts Foundation; and its employee volunteer program. One of the missions that MGM Resorts supports is Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas. MGM employees recently built a house for a family in the Vegas Heights section of the historic West Las Vegas African-American district. More than 150 MGM employees participated in the construction of the house in accordance with green energy and water standards.

Giving Back, Elevated
Another Las Vegas-based organization takes giving back to a whole other level. Repurpose America, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit, helps companies repurpose materials from trade shows that cannot be recycled. It will also help incentive groups incorporate CSR activities into their programs. Repurpose America works with 360 different community organizations in southern Nevada and has directly benefited more than 400,000 people. The organization has also created jobs for wounded veterans and those with disabilities.

An example of the transformational work that Repurpose America does can be seen at the Monkey Gym, a nonprofit located in Henderson, NV. Its mission is to provide a healthy physical and creative outlet for children and adults to "learn, grow, and heal" through physical activity. A new wrestling mat at the Monkey Gym was originally a 3,000-square-foot directional sign hung in the Las Vegas Convention Center during the 2012 MINExpo International, sponsored by the National Mining Association.

During another trade show, four huge banners hung from the Marriott next to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Each measured 100 feet long by 80 feet wide, totaling 32,000 square feet. In years past, those banners would be transferred to a landfill. Not anymore. Instead, they were transformed into a 4,000-square-foot sunshade that protects the College of Southern Nevada childcare facility's playground - as well as for other projects. The awning now protects 65 kids from the Nevada sun and saved the school $3,500, the amount it would have cost to purchase a new sunshade.

As is the case with most schools, "we do not have any extra money, so this was a great surprise," says Garry Moon, project manager at the college. Kelly Holtam, manager of the college's childcare services, adds, "The new sunshade is fantastic. It's much more heavy duty than the one we had that was destroyed by the wind. And each square of the new one has different writing on it, which is really cool."

These transformations were made possible with the help of Repurpose America, the brainchild of Zachary Delbex, who started the company in 2007. "I try to push innovation and education, and thinking outside of the box," he says. "We educate businesses and show them doing the right thing isn't going to negatively affect the bottom line. Not only am I an idealist, but I am also a realist. I understand that in the economy we're in, if it's going to cost money, they are not going to do it. My philosophy is that sustainability does not make sense unless it saves money or makes money for our clients."

The materials that Repurpose America collects are often surprising. A Las Vegas hotel recently underwent an expansion and wound up not using 16 crates of mahogany panels. There were 100 panels per crate, each worth $30 - $48,000 worth of resources that were donated to six schools and a Boy Scouts program.

The World Tea Expo recently turned to Repurpose America for help. Among the items recovered from its event were 200 pounds of tea. "We reached out to the health industries that support our local residences. The tea made it to the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Cancer Center of Southern Nevada, and Red Moon Dialysis, where it will benefit hundreds of patients, volunteers, and health practitioners," says Delbex.

Patti Shock, professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is a big supporter of Delbex. "I want him to be successful and other cities to follow suit. His work helps save the landfill and employs veterans and the disadvantaged in the process. How much more perfect can that be?"

"To watch his workers repurpose vinyl signs and foam core into swag bags, badge holders, and wallets was amazing," Shock adds. "There were stacks of potting soil from a home-and-garden show in the warehouse that would have been thrown away had it not been for Repurpose America. We hear so much about recycling, but not much about repurposing. We need to make exhibitors aware of this."

Other nonprofits that have worked with various meeting and incentive groups in Las Vegas in the past include the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, a support group for families of children with cancer; Habitat for Humanity; Opportunity Village, serving people with intellectual disabilities; Family Promise of Las Vegas, which helps families achieve sustainable futures and lasting independence; and Recycled Rides, a National Auto Body Council initative where families in need receive refurbished vehicles.